Did your doctor just recommend that you use a nebulizer for your baby? Hearing your doctor suggest Nebulization and Nebulizer Treatment can be quite frightening the first time as it can sound like a massive invasive procedure. Or you may be worried if something is seriously wrong with your baby. Let’s ease your mind first – none of these are true! Let us see how nebulizers are a perfectly simple and easy way to help your baby fight cold and congestion.
What is a nebulizer?
A nebulizer is a small machine that scatters liquids into the air in the form of a fine mist. This helps the medicine be directly inhaled through the respiratory tract and provide quick relief. Medications used in nebulizers are often the same as the oral antibiotics or cold and cough medications given to babies normally, but they are packaged in a different form and are used in lesser doses.
Nebulizer treatments are often prescribed as two sessions a day for 3 or 5 days. Each session usually takes 10 to 20 minutes. Many paediatricians have nebulizers in their clinics where you can sit with your baby and let your baby inhale the misty air. If your baby has asthma or if you have kids who often get wheezing, you can buy your own nebulizer and use it at home according to prescribed instructions. They commonly cost between Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,000 in India.
When is a Nebulizer prescribed?
Nebulizers are effective in treating respiratory conditions like:
- Asthma and Wheezing: A condition where a child has shortness of breath and difficulty breathing because of narrow airways.
- Croup: A viral cold and fever that causes cough and runny nose.
- Pneumonia: An illness where a child’s lungs get inflamed with shortness of breath.
- Cystic fibrosis: A genetic disease where babies have thick mucus that clogs their airways.
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus: RSV is a mild viral cold, but can cause inflammation of airways (bronchitis) in small babies.
Benefits of using a Nebulizer
- When using a nebulizer, the medication is sprayed in the air and reaches the baby when inhaling. There is no extra special cooperation needed from the baby.
- You don’t have to force your baby to swallow syrups and tonics, which can be a battle time for many mothers.
- The nebulizer can be used when your baby is asleep, as opposed to waking them up to give medicines.
- Your baby can use a pacifier when the nebulization treatment is ongoing. This way, you have a calm baby when they are already sick.
- Nebulization loosens and moistens the congested mucus in the nose, which can be removed easily with a soft cloth for temporary relief from blocked nose.
- Nebulized medicines work faster than oral medicine since they are sent directly to the lungs where the inflammation is present.
- If you have to give your baby 2 or 3 different syrups each morning or evening, you can mix them all and give them at once with a nebulizer.
- Nebulized medicines are administered in very very low doses when compared to oral medicines of the same category. For example, oral syrups are administered as (milligram) mg/ml suspensions while nebulizer medicines are administered in micrograms (mcg). (1 mcg = 0.001 mg).
- If cold and cough medications have any side effects on your baby such as drowsiness, they will now be negligible because of the lower doses.
- The nebulizer can also be used without actual medication. You can run a session of the nebulizer with plain saline to gently moisten dry nose and throat of little babies at bedtime when they have a mild cold. This can be a great way to relieve a stuffed nose and provide a good night’s sleep if your baby particularly hates or refuses nasal drops.
- There are compact battery-powered nebulizers that are handy to carry during travels.
- Since babies do not know how to blow noses or spit phlegm, even a normal cold can block their nose and cause huge discomfort. Nebulizing can relieve this with plain saline.
Cons of using a nebulizer
- A nebulizer might be noisy, depending on the model. If yours is, try placing it on a thick towel to dampen the sounds from vibration. Alternatively, you can also use longer tubing to keep the noisy machine away from your baby.
- It needs electricity to function.
- You can contaminate your baby if you don’t clean the nebulizer between use.
- Some babies might not like a mask on their face. Usually, very small babies are given an elasticated mask to inhale the mist through. But if your baby doesn’t like it, you can just hold the mask near your baby’s nose.
Tips to make your baby comfortable
Little ones can be squirmy and not love sitting calmly for 15 minutes, which can make nebulizing a challenge. Here are some ways you can make your baby comfortable during treatment:
- If the machine’s noise is bothering your baby, place it on a thick towel to dampen the noise. You can also use long tubes to keep the noisy machine away if your baby is sleeping.
- You can swaddle infants to make them feel safe.
- Always pick the comfiest position for your baby whether they like to sit straight, or cuddle close to you.
- Pick a time when your baby is more likely to be sleepy. Some good times are, right before a nap, during a nap, right after a good meal or at bedtime.
- If your child is a toddler, you can allow some TV time or phone time to distract them for 15 minutes.
- Allow your toddler to decorate the nebulizer with stickers of favourite characters to make it fun.
Side Effects of Using a Nebulizer
- Babies might get an itchy irritated feel in their throat.
- Depending on the medicine used, the mist can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
- Incorrect mixing of medicines might cause stomach pain.
- Your baby might also experience drowsiness, rashes or nausea, that stems from the medicine used, not the nebulizer itself.
If you are planning to buy a nebuliser, you will need to know how to operate it and how to properly clean it to make it safe to use for your baby.
Different types of Nebulizers
If you are looking to buy a nebulizer, here are the most commonly available types.
- Stationary Nebulizer: Very durable, long-lasting, and comes with the longest warranty of them all. Only meant to be used indoors.
- Mobile Nebulizer: Battery powered, these models are compact and easy to carry in a tote bag. Lightweight and ideal for travel, but there are no tubes – you have to hold it to your baby’s nose.
- Ultrasonic Nebulizer: This type uses high-frequency vibrations to convert medicine to mist. They are absolutely quiet with no noise, but they warm up the medicines, which might not be suitable for some medicine. Ask your doctor before deciding. Is available in battery-powered options.
- Jet Nebulizer: Mostly electricity powered and on the inexpensive side, these machines make a noticeable vibrating noise.
- Mesh nebulizers: Usually battery powered and very quiet. Compact to carry and disperses medicine the fastest. Usually on the expensive range and needs extra care in handling and cleaning.
How to use a Nebulizer?
Today, there are several types of nebulizers available on the market. While some elements of usage might differ from brand to brand, the general steps are usually the same for all. Nebulizers have 3 main parts – the machine to convert liquid to a mist, the tube for mist output and a cup for pouring medicines in.
First, take the clean nebulizer cup and add your baby’s medicines to it. Some medicines are given in liquid forms and others might come as a fine powder which you have to mix with saline or sterile water. Follow the instructions on the medicine vial and add the required measures to the cup.
The cup then must be connected to the nebulizer machine and the outlet tube. Next, pick the mask/ pacifier / just the tube of your choice. Many little ones don’t like having the mask attached to their face with elastic, so it works just as fine if you can hold the mask closely near your baby’s nose.
Turn the nebulizer on now. As the medicine in the cup begins to bubble, you will be able to feel a fine spray of misty air coming through the tube. You can turn off the machine when the mist becomes noticeably absent or if the medicine in the cup is gone.
Clean the medicine cup and the mask after each use with soap and water. you can also place most brands in the dishwasher.
Cleaning your Nebulizer
It’s very important to take good care to clean your nebulizer after each use. Fungi and bacteria love thriving in moist and warm environments, such as the very inviting moist medicine cup and the mask. In case of neglected cleaning, these bad germs will then be delivered directly into your baby’s lungs in the next session, doing more harm than good.
Most nebulizers come with a well-detailed cleaning manual. Here are the general steps you have to follow to keep germs away.
Take apart the medicine cup and mouthpiece. You can wash them with dish soap and water. or give them a few minutes of warm soapy water soak. You can also place them in your bottle sterilizer or throw them in the dishwasher on high. When cleaned to your satisfaction, rinse well and let it air dry completely. Store in a clean dry place when all the parts have completely dried.
If your nebulizer has a filter, read the manual to see how often it must be replaced to keep your unit fresh and clean.
If you are planning to buy your nebulizer, always follow the treatment plan as charted by your baby’s doctor. Improper mixing or too much of a medicine can cause blood to run from the nose. It is okay to run a plain saline session to relieve stuffed nose without your doctor’s permission. But if your baby’s cold seems to worsen or if your baby appears to be in more distress and/ or difficulty breathing after a session, see your doctor right away.
Only use the right medicine designed to be used in a nebuliser. Do not substitute it with home remedies (like Vicks vaporub). Some medicine will need to be prepared using sterile water. Don’t try to make sterile water at home unless your doctor recommends it. if your baby has a cold, do not begin using the medicine you have at home in the nebulizer without consulting your doctor. Common colds are often viral in nature, and antibiotics only work against bacteria. Run just the saline until you can see your doctor.
Do not continue treatment for longer than 5 days. If your baby’s respiratory issues persist for longer than 5 days, discuss with your doctor again before continuing.